That’s right – walking speed and gait has been referred to as the sixth vital sign. Research has shown that decreases in walking speed have been directly linked to changes in quality of life, reduced independence, isolation, and cognitive decline.
Why Does Walking Speed Slow Down?
1. Balance – can be measured in your ability to stand on one foot.
2. Mobility – range of motion
3. Tissue flexibility – ability of connective tissue to move
To maintain or improve balance work on single leg balance exercise. To keep safe start by standing next to a firm counter that you can reach out to hold if you feel like you may fall. Progress to being to hold a single leg balance on each leg without holding on for at least a minute.
If this gets easy you can try closing your eyes – but be careful and be near a counter again or other solid object you can hover your hands over in the event you feel you may fall. If you master this exercise you have really trained your balance systems well!
Ideally do this exercise in bare feet – shoes reduce ground feel which is critical to learning to balance.
Key area to focus on are the ankle as we tend to lose mobility here and this directly prevents proper walking and balance! To train this you can incorporate foot/ankle circles during your one leg stance – try to draw a large circle with your toes on the foot that is held in the air. Go 10 – 20 times in one directly and then repeat in the other direction and do both ankles!
Elevate the front of the ball of your foot against a vertical surface of a step or wall and then lean the whole body forward slightly keeping your heel on the ground. You should feel a nice stretch in the calf and Achilles Tendon – hold for 30 seconds and do not push into pain. Repeat with knee of stretching leg bent and repeat on both sides.
Doing foam roller exercises for foot and calf to help maintain tissue flexibility. Vibrating foam rollers like the Therabody Wave Roller work best. Here is a quick video showing how to foam roll your calves: https://youtu.be/nZZe9ai7Vvw . Here is a great video on how to use a bar or golf or lacrosse ball on the bottom of your feet: https://youtu.be/wOqsGsvJu6M
The other fantastic way to improve tissue mobility is the using the Theragun Massage Gun on your feet and calves – see here: https://youtu.be/o8lD95grrus and WOW does this feel great!
Last but not least, it is very important to maintain good hydration by drinking plenty of water – your connective tissue is mostly made up of water so drink up!